The first feeling evoked by Cherrywood is that of forced community — which usually manifests itself as fear: Where will I sit?
The coffeeshop is a large rectangular room, a quarter of which is divided off by a hip-level wall. The larger of the unfinished-concrete floor spaces is populated with lines of tables like those you’d find in a school cafeteria or library. Two or three to a row — about twelve people per row. Five rows total (two perpendicular to the three perpendicular to the bar, at which they serve alcohol as well as coffee) surrounded by smaller two- to four-person tables and a couple of couches. Inside the other area, fewer and smaller tables. Outside is a large deck and even larger crushed granite patio with a stage.
The fear is that you may, for the first time in a very long time, have to interact with someone other than the barista at the shop. Especially on a rainy and cold day like today, when it’s filled to the gills (because only those with gills would be outside). Ultimately, though, the layout forces you to face someone, ask to sit down or get by to go to the bathroom or be asked to watch their stuff, etc. etc.
Ryan, who owned the old Ruta Maya tobacco shop (not Roach, who owned the second incarnation’s tobacco shop), owns Cherrywood. He’s from New Orleans. He’s also run Garden District coffee, off S. Congress, across from St. Ed’s, effectively inside the plant store next door. I wonder if Ryan designed Cherrywood this way on purpose. I don’t know if a desire to create a community — like existed at Ruta Maya — led to this seating arrangement design decision consciously or subconsciously or at all (maybe it’s just to accommodate his guests). I like to think it did, and I’d give him credit for thinking it consciously. Nonetheless, it seems the best way to encourage people to talk — put them face-to-face with one another at dinner-like tables. Misty calls this the European approach. Make it a little awkward to sit there without acknowledging the person three feet away giving you the stink eye and the flu.
Several old Ruta people work here, including David. He’s made me his Coffee Buddy for today. I got a free mocha and he got a free tip.
I just needed to get out of the house today. I may do the same thing here that I would at home, but I need some fresh air, a new environment, different people. Just suddenly started feeling stir-crazy.
Cherrywood is filled with students. Most Austin coffeeshops are. I suppose they keep them alive. Only downtown — where office workers provide a daily influx of cash — can a shop work without them here.
David asked how our moving was going when I first arrived. For a moment, I was thrown: moving? Then I remembered, Oh, yes, our moving plans, our big move. I gave him the update: Misty has a possible offer in Pittsburgh (compensation discussion pending) but Seattle remains a lock otherwise. Of course, this ignores the possibility that I may very well secure employment in the coming week. At least, I have an in-person interview that developed quickly after my telephone interview. I also have a possibility in Seattle. What does that mean for Misty and me if she should get a job somewhere else and I get one here in Austin?
Why, she’d go ahead and I’d stay here for a year or more building experience and then join her. That gives us plenty of time to find a decent place to live there as well. Misty can Airbnb until we find a place to rent. It would be hard — but doable. She does risk my getting back into the habit of going to coffeeshops each evening after work, though. However, I don’t see how that could be viewed as improper from Seattle.*
Would it be Cherrywood? Or Epoch? Certainly not Bennu with its cockroaches or Halcyon unless I want to drink, which is rare (and can be done at a lower level at Cherrywood).
Maybe this is the new Ruta Maya, though. A layout designed to nudge us into interpersonal interaction and communication. Granted, you can still not say a word beyond your order, but the possibility is far more open-ended here than in most coffeeshops. Is this how Ruta Maya would have to be structured today? Some way to force community? Or can it/will it still organically arise from such spaces? The answer to the latter is an emphatic no.
Spaces grow sticky communities because they are cultivated, to a degree. The business must seed it, give it the flexibility to grow its own way, like a vine, yet still nurture it as it grows in its own direction. Most owners don’t want to lose control of their brand to their customers. Ruta Maya became more than a brand — a name and a logo to us — and I know I’m not alone when I express sentiments of significant loss. Many other Ruta Mayans have voiced the same sadness and longing to me.
I wonder if being a coffee buddy gets you a free iced tea. (It does.)
There is certainly far more talking going on at Cherrywood than elsewhere.
*I ran into an old Ruta Maya buddy, Adam, at Epoch Coffee last week. We only recently reconnected through Craig. I asked where his wife was and he said he did the post-work coffeeshop stop alone, usually. See? I’m not the only one with this habit. It’s harmless! I think. Ask Adam. Or his wife.